Resource 6: Using models in science

Teacher resource to support teaching approaches

Using models in science

Using models or analogies is a very powerful way of helping children to understand scientific ideas. Used properly, models can also help to develop critical thinking. You can do this by helping children to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a model.

Some general principles to think about when planning lessons with models are:

  • introduce the model early in the teaching of the topic, then use the model consistently until it is replaced by a more sophisticated one
  • ensure students make links between the model and the real situation
  • ensure students recognise the differences between the model and what it is illustrating
  • encourage students to apply their understanding to explain new ideas
  • encourage students to identify strengths and weaknesses in any model
  • increase the sophistication of the model when necessary.

A useful approach when you are planning a sequence of lessons based on a model such as the particle model might be:

  1. Teach the original model explicitly – show which part relates to which, making sure students understand and picture it.
  2. Test the original model by applying it – students practise using the model to explain simple ideas. For example, explaining why gases can be compressed, liquids can’t be compressed, solids are hard, etc.
  3. Challenge the original model – by using it to explain more complicated things like melting, dissolving and evaporating.
  4. Develop a ‘better model’ – if necessary explore the development of a better model with the students or provide a more sophisticated one.

Once students have a good understanding of the particle model, this will help them to understand concepts such as why materials have different properties, osmosis, Brownian motion, density, elements, compounds and chemical change.

Resource 5: Assessing models